The future leader of Highland High School is looking forward to holding up the school’s high-achieving reputation.
During the Highland School Board meeting this month, the board named Dr. Chris Becker as the next principal at the school upon recommendation of Superintendent Mike Sutton.
“I’m honored and thrilled and blessed to have this opportunity to be the next principal of the high school. I look forward to working with students, faculty, parents and community to continue to make Highland High School an amazing school in an amazing district,” Becker said.
Becker was chosen as the most suitable candidate out of a pool of 17 applicants, Sutton said. Becker has been the associate principal at the high school since 2013, where he began his stint with some significant administrative experience, according to Sutton.
“He has become part of the community and understands the high expectations that come with being Highland High School principal,” Sutton said. “Chris shows some amazing leadership skills and I look forward to working with him in the future.”
Becker will replace Dr. Karen Gauen, who will retire from the district at the end of the year. Gauen has been principal for the last five years and has worked for the district since 1993. But she said Becker’s qualifications make him the right man to follow in her footsteps.
“He is a wonderful assistant principal right now. We work well as team, and I do think he is going to keep the school moving in the right direction,” Gauen said.
Becker had some kind words for Gauen’s influence as a principal as well.
“She has been a great supporter of me, and I’ve learned a lot from her, and we work well together,” he said.
Becker has been working closely with Gauen, Sutton and other district administrators. He said he is confident there will be a smooth transition when he officially takes over on July 1 next year. Becker will start with a two-year contract.
“Having been here the last five years, and understanding the school, the town, the community and the systems in place, will make that transition, hopefully, seamless,” Becker said.
Becker has 21 years of education experience under his belt. But Becker’s career was seeded when he was 12-years-old. It was his sixth-grade year, and he was having some trouble at home.
“And my confidence was a little shaken at that time,” Becker said.
But as the year progressed, he became closer with the faculty at his school and formed a relationship with his most influential teacher, who taught social studies. It was the faculty’s dedication to help him grow that inspired him to pursue a career as a history teacher.
“I just had people who believed in me, and I just wanted to pay that back,” Becker said.
From that point, Becker would be launched into a career of academia.
Becker received a bachelor’s degree in education from Illinois College, a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Illinois Springfield and a doctorate and specialist degree in educational leadership with a superintendent endorsement from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Last spring, Becker earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership at SIUE and published his dissertation on learning communities, which he preformed on the high school.
Becker’s career, to this point, has been divided amongst three school districts in Illinois. During his teaching career, Becker was a pre-K assistant, taught sixth grade and high school history, and coached several sports.
At one point during in his teaching career, Becker flipped his focus. He decided he needed to choose between pursuing a coaching career or a job as an administrator. He chose administration and served in Ball-Chatham School District for eight years as an associate principal, assistant principal and athletic director.
But in 2013, Becker was called south and took his position in Highland.
“Highland was a very attractive place, because of the strong community involvement and traditions and the high-achieving schools was a huge part of that,” Becker said.
It has become home.
“It’s like my heart and soul is in this place,” Becker said.
Becker currently lives in Highland with his wife Holly, who teaches fourth grade in the Highland School District. They have three girls together: Lily, a junior at HHS; Kate, an eighth grader; and Lucy, who is in fourth grade.
As a principal, Becker said he hopes to maintain the school’s high test scores, best-practice instructions, and keep engagement in the classroom and teacher collaboration. He said he also wants to continue the school’s involvement with social learning and pursue offering a variety of courses for kids with different interests.
But overall, Becker said he is excited to continue to grow and continue his journey as a Bulldog.
“It’s a great place to work, where you are hungry to come to work every day to make a difference in the lives of students, faculty and the community,” he said.